Gaps in movie logic can be overlooked if the thrills, you know, thrill. A character turns out to be a complete contradiction; a key piece of information pops up without explanation; the narrator, our trusted guide, was unreliable all along. Entire movies have been broken in half in order to land a heavy plot twist. The strategy can be glorious -- Soylent Green is… made out of people!! -- or completely miss the mark, invalidating every decent scene that preceded it. These are examples of the latter, the most frustrating storytelling sins in recent years:
Planet of the Apes (2001)
In Tim Burton's reboot, an astronaut (Mark Wahlberg) follows an imperiled chimpanzee co-worker forward through time via wormhole to a strange planet. But instead of using the original's twist -- the ape planet is actually future Earth! -- the space station Wahlberg had initially launched his pod from also crashed, only it did so thousands of years in the past thanks to relativity. That would have been all well and good had Wahlberg not decided to set his course back to present-day Earth... where he discovers that the Lincoln Memorial is now a monument to Ashlar's General Thade (Tim Roth) and that all the police who ride up to investigate the crash are apes!
For this twist to make sense, Thade would have needed to invent time travel, go back to America in the 1850s, and… hope that future ape Americans replicated Earth's history precisely? And why would simians use the same cars as humans? Ape legs are so much shorter!
After writing and directing 1999's breakout hit The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan gained the public reputation of a director that could, and would, melt our minds with plot twists. But while The Sixth Sense's jaw-dropper makes for a rewarding rewatch and Unbreakable's villainous reveal was satisfying, the hydrophobic aliens of Signs are a puzzling misfire in comparison.
In a movie where Mel Gibson wrestles with his faith while the world is threatened with alien invasion, those aliens have one weakness: water. Anyone who has seen our big blue marble from space can tell this planet is 80% water. I guess the invading force thought they could take over the other 20%, some of it blessed with modern plumbing, while staying dry and roaming on foot. A species that developed interplanetary travel should not be that dumb.
Playing on the nerves of an audience who just watched Cary Elwes commit self-harm, the first Saw's finale rapidly recaps the previous 80 minutes in flashbacks, with snippets of dialogue that reveal that Zeb, who we thought was the killer, is just another pawn. The mastermind -- surprise! -- is actually John, one of Dr. Gordon's cancer patients, who has applied prosthetics to his head so that he can pretend to be a dead body in the room.
The movie ends before giving the audience time to reflect on the two protagonists' idiocy. A very conscious guy with fake brains glued to his bald head? OK, I'd believe a healthy man could pretend to be dead while in a room with people for eight hours, but not someone as terminally ill as Jigsaw.
Now You See Me (2013)
Lots of this 2013 magic-heist movie doesn't make sense, but the thing that makes the least sense is the ending. After pulling off magic that goes beyond the realm of possibility, Mark Ruffalo's officer reveals that everything we've seen was a long con to exact revenge on Morgan Freeman for his magician father's death. Oh, and he's also part of a secret organization called The Eye that protects the secret of real magic. Good thing not a single thing went wrong in a plan that took two decades and four strangers to execute.
The Life of David Gale (2003)
Kevin Spacey plays David Gale, a death-row inmate who used to protest the death penalty before being convicted for the rape and murder of one of his colleagues. Kate Winslet plays a journalist who, on the day he's set to be executed, discovers evidence that could exonerate him. Or does she?
After his death, a videotape reveals that Gale was complicit in the frame-up, sacrificing himself to "prove" that innocent people are occasionally executed. Gale had lost his wife and child in a divorce after previously being accused of rape. The claim wasn't true, and he felt like taking a stand. The problem is... that legally proves nothing. Gale would only expose the system as fallible if the trial was fair. By withholding evidence, he violated his own Sixth Amendment rights and rendered his point a purely emotional one.
The Village (2004)
Where the reveal in Signs might be the quintessential twist that breaks the movie, The Village is M. Night Shyamalan actively avoiding an inevitable break. Much like Saw, the moment Bryce Dallas Howard stumbles out of a modern-day wildlife preserve she believes is a 19th-century village, the movie has reached the end game.
Shyamalan casts himself as the guy who tells the audience about a wealthy member of a grief-counseling circle who purchased a wildlife preserve in the 1970s, maintained a no-fly zone, and funded a park service so he could recreate life from a different time. Bafflingly, this has worked for decades. Equally baffling is the conclusion, in which nobody learns anything and the Elders vote to stay in the Village. Great.
The Forgotten (2004)
Julianne Moore plays a mother who thinks her son Sam died in a plane crash while everyone else is convinced she's never had a son. Moore runs around trying to get someone to remember Sam, to no avail. Could the government be running some diabolical test on children? Covering up a terrorist attack on a plane? Nope: it's aliens.
Referred to as "them," these idiots are running an experiment on the strength of the mother-child bond. Their memory-deleting technology hasn't been working on mothers, instead driving Julianne Moore crazy. By the end, Sam is back, everyone is fine, and the aliens don't learn anything -- except not to mess with Julianne Moore.
High Tension (2003)
This French serial-killer splatterfest is a lot of fun if you like graphic gore. Less fun is the end reveal, where the protagonist Marie is revealed to be the unnamed murderer who killed her friend Alex's family. The unreliable-narrator twist blows open the internal logic of the movie: did anyone die like how Marie imagined it? Can Marie really muster enough force to push a bookcase that decapitates a victim or shove a concrete saw through the window of a car? If those deaths were just imaginary, who gives Alex the knife in the back of the van at the gas station?
This slasher is fun, but has gigantic gaps in logic. The biggest one, wrote Roger Ebert in his review, "is not only large enough to drive a truck through, but in fact does have a truck driven right through it."
On a Panama military base, Samuel L. Jackson's Master Sergeant Nathan West leads some Army Rangers on a training exercise -- and not all of them return. The ones who do only want to talk to John Travolta's DEA agent, a man whose name is, no joke, Tom Hardy. He and Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen) hear rumors that a band of ex-US military soldiers are running hard drugs out of Latin America, and it seems that the soldiers taking part in the training exercise ran afoul of these drug-runners. In the ensuing fight, say the survivors, West was killed.
To piece together the truth via interviews, Basic piles lies upon twists throughout the whole film. The big reveal: the military drug-runners turn out to be a rumor designed to spook cartels while a real anti-drug black-ops group -- led by (twist!) Hardy -- hunts the bad guys. On top of that, we learn that West has merely faked his own death after he outed the group to his superior officer, not knowing that he was in on the scam. Translation: the "Who killed Sergeant Nathan West?" investigation is all a red herring. Any anger over the "Who killed Sergeant Nathan West?" investigation being a red herring is real.
Source Code (2011)
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, a pilot who effectively dies on a mission in Afghanistan and is kept in a comatose condition to be used in a military experiment that allows someone to be "inserted" into the final eight minutes of another recently deceased person's body. Stevens is repeatedly sent into the body of Sean Fentress and tasked with investigating a train bombing. Contrary to what he's being told by the scientists monitoring him, Stevens discovers that he is able to change the history in this alternative timeline, and he ultimately figures out how to thwart the attack. He also permanently takes over the body of Fentress.
That's right: poor Sean's consciousness gets over-written, even while Stevens is still alive in a vegetative state in his timeline. That means some unlucky soul has been blinked out of existence, primarily because our hero falls in love with the chump's girlfriend. That's profoundly sad.
If you know what Prometheus is about, please let us know, because there's a sequel on the way and we definitely want to see it. Here's what we can divine: the black oil stuff was created by the Engineers as a terraforming agent (when used on themselves) and as a bio-weapon (when used on other species). What they didn't count on was reproduction. When the black oil is introduced into a sexual cycle, it leads to an alien squid baby. That squid baby will grow into a large face-hugger-type creature, like the one that attacks the revived Engineer and plants the egg that hatches into something that looks almost exactly like a xenomorph from the Alien series but apparently isn't.
Placing to the side all the forced inter-crew conflict and Charlize Theron's maddening inability to turn while running, does any of that make any sense? Why does Noomi Rapace's squid baby's alien progeny look even vaguely similar to the xenomorph species we find in Alien (which has no human DNA in it)? In Prometheus' space, no one can hear us scream for answers.
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